Each year, the blog managers of each SB Nation site participate in a mock draft in which each team gets to make trades and picks just like they were their own team's General Manager.
For the Phoenix Suns, the vaunted BSotS front office staff wealt and dealt our way to the #3 overall pick to take D'Angelo Russell from Ohio State University.
This isn't like a regular mock, where each picker is from the same pool of team fans or staff writers. Rather, this mock is executed by 30 different mock-GMs, all with their mock front office staffs, who live and breathe their own team 24/7 while knowing a whole lot less about the rest of the NBA. We don't have scouts whose entire job is researching other teams' players and college prospects. We have to go on our own experiences, likely only seeing some of those players once or twice a year when their games are on national TV.
So, by nature, trades can be a lot harder to come by. It's one thing, for example. to make trades that help the Suns when all the mock-GMs are Suns fans. It's quite another to make a Suns-favored trade when NO ONE else is a Suns fan.
Put your behind in your past
Two years ago, we were able to dump well-known rotation players for picks, adding the 10th and 21st picks for Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley, while taking Victor Oladipo with the 5th and picking up Brandon Knight in a trade for the 30th pick. Considering Rudy Gobert was that 10th pick, I'd say it was a good haul. But by taking Jamal Franklin in the Dudley trade, and by virtue of Gobert and Knight being undervalued at that time, my best post-draft grade was a B.
Last year, we were much less successful in the area of trades. I moved up slightly from 18 to 13, ending up with the 13th and 14th picks. Adreian Payne and Nik Stauskas got me about a C grade at the time, while looking back on the draft now I might even give it a D.
Putting those two drafts together, the BSotS mock Suns would right now have a young core of Brandon Knight, Victor Oladipo, Nik Stauskas, Jamaal Franklin, Adreian Payne and Rudy Gobert along with the Morris brothers and P.J. Tucker. A nice young team, but not an All-Star among them except maybe Rudy Gobert some day.
Compare that to the current real-life Suns core of Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Archie Goodwin, T.J. Warren, Alex Len, Bogdan Bogdanovic along with the Morrii and P.J. A nice young team, but not an All-Star among them except maybe Eric Bledsoe some day.
You could argue that the BSotS team would have been bad enough to earn a higher pick last year and this year, but I would have been aggressive in free agency and quite possibly would have found a way to win 87 games over two years just like the real Suns. I'm not a fan of active tanking.
Both teams are good and young but still lacking an All-Star.
What separates the two teams, in my opinion, is Eric Bledsoe. He may not be an All-Star, but is young and good enough to help the Suns acquire that cornerstone more than any other player on either team.
First step, trade Bledsoe for #6
First, I want to discuss why I would trade Eric Bledsoe in the first place.
I am NOT a fan of trading him as some kind of addition by subtraction. I love what Bledsoe brings a team, as long as he's not the focal point and best player. Bledsoe doesn't have the on- or off-court personality to be a leader, but he's a GREAT player. I would keep him all five years, and longer, if the Suns were a clear playoff team with him. But the Suns are not. And they don't have a pocket full prospects to acquire a perennial All-Star any time they want. So I went into the draft willing to trade anyone for a potential All-Star, and started with Bledsoe for a Top 8 pick, just to see what I could do.
As the draft started, I emailed each of the Top 8 team mock-GMs to offer Eric Bledsoe for their pick. Just to see what would happen. Minnesota, LA, Philly, New York and Orlando either did not respond, or gave a polite no thanks.
The first team that responded favorably was Sacramento. I wrote earlier this month in the treadmill article that Sacramento is emblematic of a team tired of drafting high because the lottery is truly a crapshoot. Since 2009, they've taken Tyreke Evans #4, DeMarcus Cousins #5, Thomas Robinson #5, Ben McLemore #7 and Nik Stauskas #8.
The mock Kings jumped at the chance of adding Bledsoe straight up for the 6th pick. With DeMarcus Cousins being a free agent in just a couple years and a new arena on the way, the Kings need to make a splash. Eric Bledsoe and Cousins were teammates at Kentucky as well, and Bledsoe gives them stability in the back court for the first time in years.
There was some back and forth among the BSotS staff on the merits of trading Bledsoe for an unknown draftee, but the argument didn't last long before we had a consensus.
Of course, there had to be salary-matching here, so we got back a veteran backup point guard, Darren Collison, and a serviceable rebounding big man in Jason Thompson. Thompson may be overpaid, but he has only one more fully-guaranteed year on his deal. If he's not a major rotation player, the Suns could cut him next summer to add to their cap space in the "Money Flood of 2016" or trade him to a team who would do the same.
Having veteran Darren Collison on hand to back up at point guard was a big win, as far as the BSotS front office was concerned. The Suns really struggled when it got down to only Bledsoe in the spring, and Collison is the kind of player who can handle a bench role with professionalism.
#6, #13 and Bullock for #3 overall
But the 6th pick isn't necessarily a star. If we were going to sacrifice Eric Bledsoe, we needed to come back with a star or at least a potential star with a higher ceiling than Bledsoe. To get that high up, we had to give up more than just Bledsoe.
We wanted a Top 3 pick. Starting at #4 overall the picks get a little dicier. I think there's a drop-off from Towns/Okafor/Russell to Porzingis/Winslow/Mudiay. And if we were okay with one of the latter three, we'd just have stayed at #6 and keep #13.
So we went after the top of the board again. I can see why a rebuilding team at the top of the draft wouldn't want a combo of Bledsoe and 13 for their pick because Bledsoe is too expensive to have around the next few years while they put teams together.
But for those top 3 teams, trading down to 6 isn't that far while adding another lotto pick to their rebuild. For a rebuilding team, having the #6 and #13 picks in the same draft is pretty good.
Some of you might say the same, that the Suns need to start over and we should have sat with #6 and #13 and walked away thrilled. But we wanted better than pretty good. Sacramento is a perfect example that even drafting in the mid-lottery doesn't get you stars very often. They hit on Cousins, but have not hit on anyone else as a star.
The Wolves and Lakers still weren't interested in trading down. The Lakers blogger was happy with one of Okafor and Towns, and of course the Wolves took Towns the second the draft even started.
The Sixers, in perpetual asset-collection mode and already sporting a Top-3 pick on their roster in Embiid, jumped at the chance to double their picks once I threw in Reggie Bullock as one more carrot. I know, I know. Throwing in Bullock was cray-cray but I think we can live without Reggie next season.
Liberty Ballers, the Sixers SB Nation site, had Mario Hezonja as their #2 on their draft board all along, so they had no problem dropping to 6th to still get their guy while adding another lottery pick.
Now we had the #3 overall pick, Darren Collison and Jason Thompson for Bledsoe, Bullock and #13.
Don't worry, we took all your high fives.
D'Angelo Russell is the Suns new star
While Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Bullock, and someone like Bobby Portis or Frank Kaminsky are three good young assets, none has the superstar potential the Suns need.
D'Angelo Russell is that potential superstar. He's been consistently ranked in the 2-4 range overall in this draft, and has a ceiling as a perennial All-Star.
There's no growing slowly into a rotation position when it comes to Russell. He will step right into the lineup and play 30+ minutes every night. Helping him with the playmaking duties and being his safety net will be veterans Brandon Knight (still just 23) and Darren Collison (27) for at least the next two years.
This is a perfect team and perfect scheme for Russell, who is a score-first point guard that immediately becomes the best pure playmaker on the team. Everything we've wanted out of Bledsoe and Knight should be coming with Russell, once he grows into his role.
With big minutes, he could immediately be a 18/4/4 type of guy as a rookie, eventually becoming a 20+ point scorer and 6+ assists playmaker. He's got great size for a point (6'5") and already rebounds well too.
Finally, the Suns have a centerpiece around whom to build their future. Finally, there's a face for the new franchise.
The Suns are on their way, and D'Angelo Russell is leading that charge.
With the rest of the draft to go, now it's time to clean up the roster a bit. Come back tomorrow for another move or two in the Suns' favor...
For now, let's meet D'Angelo Russell.
Let's look at his strengths.
Of course, there are weaknesses too. He's only 18, you know.